Sunday, July 15, 2018

Giada's Corn and Tomato Soup with Basil: Summer in a Bowl for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Back to a warm summer soup this Sunday--Giada's Corn and Tomato Soup which with the sweet corn and fresh tomatoes and basil, is a bit of summer in a bowl. 


I saw this one on Food Network and as I often do, I took a look at the reviews, which were mixed, before making it. Some liked it, some didn't, and some marked the recipe low because they didn't like how Giada chewed in the episode the recipe was shown. (Heaves a big sigh...) I take other reviews and comments with a grain of salt because sometimes people scare me--especially when they change every single thing about the recipe (but don't do it well) and then complain about it not tasting like it should. That being said, when I first looked at this one, I thought to myself that it would need a little somethin-somethin to give it more flavor and lack of strong flavor turned out to be the main complaint of those who didn't like it as much.  


Since I like bigger flavors, I did add to Giada's base. I also ended up using more corn and cooking it longer to build flavor and pureeing only 2/3 of it to have a lighter texture and chunks of sweet corn in the soup. To me, biting into those sweet morsels is a big part of summer. The recipe with my changes below. To see the original, follow the link below.

Corn and Tomato Soup 
Slightly Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis via Food Network.com
(Serves 4)

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
1 tsp kosher salt, or salt to taste
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper, or to taste 
(I added 2 chopped green onions)
(I added 2 garlic cloves, crushed)
(I added 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper-or cayenne)
1 lb, about 3 1/4 cups corn-fresh or frozen (thawed) (I used about 6 cups fresh & frozen)
3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth (I used veggie stock)
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (I used 3 Roma tomatoes)
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped (I used 1/2 cup)

In a large  saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, salt and pepper and cook until just soft--about 3 minutes, stirring as needed. Add the green onions, garlic, dried basil, smoked paprika and Aleppo or cayenne and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes--until fragrant.

Add the corn and stock and bring to a boil, cooking about 15 minutes. Blend all or part of the soup in a blender (I blended about half) and return to pot. Stir in tomatoes and basil and season to taste.

Ladle into bowls and serve.


Notes/Results: Creamy, sweet sand savory and great flavor, I really enjoyed this soup. With the changes I made, it worked for me--a little heat and extra basil flavor, the garlic--it gave the flavor a boost but didn't overpower the corn and tomatoes. I think the recipe started with good bones and just needed a bit of tweaking to make it hit the profile I was looking for. Fast to make, summery, filling, and satisfying, I would happily make it again. 


I'm linking up with I Heart Cooking Clubs where it's our Monthly Featured Ingredient / Dish Challenge: Corn. Corn recipes from our current featured chef or past featured IHCC chefs.


Here are five of my other favorite corn recipes from our IHCC chefs:

Jacques Pépin's Corn and Hominy Chowder:


Giada's Pizza Popcorn:

  
Rick Bayless's Zucchini with Roasted Peppers, Corn and (Cashew) Cream

 
Nigel Slater's Quick Fish and Corn Chowder:


 Rick Bayless's Creamy Corn Soup with Vegetables and Poblano Chile


Now let's look into the Souper Sundays kitchen and see who is here.


Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog brought Instant Pot Broccoli Soup--Creamy or Not and said, "This flavorful plant based broccoli soup is very appealing. It's light and creamy and goes well with a variety of toppings. The creaminess comes from the vegetables when it's blended, not milk or cream. ... I sometimes make this recipe creamy, but personally when it's just for me- I like my soups broth-y rather than creamy, so I do not always blend my soup. Yes, the broccoli will be very soft because it well cooked in the Instant Pot but the flavor that it imparts in the soup is truly amazing."

 
Tina of Squirrel Head Manor is declaring the Shrimp Tacos she enjoyed on a recent Florida day trip a sandwich. We (OK it's only me) ;-) at Souper Sundays say that if it is filling wrapped or enclosed somehow, it makes it a sandwich to us. Tina says, "I tried the shrimp tacos. Wow, they are very filling and I would certainly get them again. The standard order includes two tacos but you could order a third taco for a small price. Two was plenty for me. Served with Greek potatoes."


Mahalo to Judee and Tina for joining me this week! 

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About Souper Sundays:

Souper Sundays (going since 2008) now has a format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches at any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
 

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's Souper Sunday's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:


  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you. Also please see below for what to do on your blog post that you link up her in order to be included in the weekly round-up.
and 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back to it on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (optional).



Have a happy, healthy week!
 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "A Place For Us" by Fatima Farheen Mirza, Served with a Recipe for a Cold and Creamy (Vegan) Mango Lassi

I'm very excited to be a stop on the TLC Book Tour for A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, the first novel from SJP for Hogarth, a collaboration between Sarah Jessica Parker and the publishing group. Accompanying my review is a cold and creamy, vegan Mango Lassi that was inspired by my reading and is a delicious summer treat.


Publisher's Blurb:

The first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint, SJP for Hogarth, A Place for Us is a deeply moving and resonant story of love, identity and belonging

As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made.

There is Hadia: their headstrong, eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition. Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps. And lastly, their estranged son, Amar, who returns to the family fold for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride.

What secrets and betrayals have caused this close-knit family to fracture? Can Amar find his way back to the people who know and love him best?

A Place for Us takes us back to the beginning of this family’s life: from the bonds that bring them together, to the differences that pull them apart. All the joy and struggle of family life is here, from Rafiq and Layla’s own arrival in America from India, to the years in which their children — each in their own way — tread between two cultures, seeking to find their place in the world, as well as a path home.

A Place for Us is a book for our times: an astonishingly tender-hearted novel of identity and belonging, and a resonant portrait of what it means to be an American family today. It announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major new literary talent.  

Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: SJP for Hogarth (June 12, 2018)


My Review:

I was exited to jump on the tour for A Place For Us, both for the subject of the book--I love immigrant stories, especially when they involves family and the Indian and Muslim cultures. I also like Sarah Jessica Parker and I admit to being intrigued about what smart and book-loving female celebrities are reading, enjoying, and supporting--whether by including a book as a book club selection or backing it, as in this partnership between the actress and Hogarth Publishing. I hoped the story would be as good as it sounded from the description and it was--a beautifully written book that drew me in from the start, kept me engrossed throughout, and made me sorry to reach the end.

The story focuses on a Muslim-American family where the father, Rafiq, immigrated to America as a teen and entered into a marriage arrangement with Layla, who immigrates after the marriage, leaving behind everyone and everything thing she knows. They live in California where they raise three children, daughters Hadia and Huda and the youngest, their son, Amar. The parents hold strongly to their faith and and the Muslim-American community with the children being pulled between these traditions and assimilation into American culture. The story starts with adult Hadia's wedding--a love match between the eldest child (a perfectionist and doctor) to Tariq (a more modern/relaxed Indian of a different sect). We see the family at the wedding and learn that there is much drama and estrangement between Amar and the family. The history of this family drama unfolds throughout the book as the author moves back and forth in time and the tale is told from the different perspectives of the main characters. I think the great beauty in a book like this is how you can find a family that in most all aspects of background, religion, and life in general, is so completely different from your own, yet you can find so many commonalities in the characters, their personalities, roles in the family, and experiences. Hadia and Amar as the oldest daughter and youngest son, tend to get the most notice--both good and bad from their parents, while Huda, the middle child, is more of a minor character--but no less relatable. The story touches on subjects such as addiction, cultural struggles, family dysfunction, and the impact of 9/11 on a Muslim family in America (the children are teens when it happens) and the ongoing fear, distrust and bigotry many have for this religion and culture. 

There were times that the back and forth in time and perspective got confusing to me as it moves quickly and often, with no clear identifying path. I found at one point that I must have put my bookmark in the wrong section and I missed about fifty pages and didn't notice it until something really didn't make sense, then I had to go back to read what I had missed. Still, the story is well-crafted and so impressive, especially for a debut novel, that the minor frustrations of having to unwind, slow down, and find my place were well worth it for the quality of the story. The way the author uncovered the story in pieces and learning the various characters' "whys" for their actions were smartly done and had me wiping away tears at an ending, that while not wrapping things up completely, left me satisfied. 

A Place For Us is not a light, breezy summer read, it requires thought and draws at emotions, but it resonated with me and I think it will with anyone that enjoys stories with family and cultural drama, beautiful and descriptive writing, and strong characters.

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Author Notes: Fatima Farheen Mirza was born in 1991 and raised in California. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship.

Find out more about A Place for Us at sjpforhogarth.com.





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Food Inspiration:

Centered around an Indian wedding and family life, there is plenty of food to be found in A Place For Us. Food mentions included mango and pineapple juice and a table of Wedding appetizers--including samosas with mint sauce and tandori chicken, wedding gift pouches of almonds and chocolates, popcorn, pomegranates and mangoes, ice cream--pistachio, almond and vanilla, Peanut M&Ms, lunches of pears, grapes, Goldfish crackers, wraps of roti and fried okra, cereal with banana, kheema and fried tomatoes, dal, tawa gosht, freshly-made roti, macaroni, spinach and egg, tomatoes and basil growing in a garden, biryani/rice, a blended iced coffee drink, chaat with yogurt, blackberries, pasta salad, and baby carrots, a favorite Thai restaurant with desserts of mango sticky rice, fried roti and fried ice cream, pizza, tea, and an eggplant dish.


For my book-inspired dish I decided to go with a mango lassi--partly because it has been hot and humid here and after seeing it referenced several times in the book, I was seriously craving one, and partly because it was something that had special meaning to Hadia as it was the favorite drink of her boyhood crush. I wanted to keep it simple and dairy free, and not too sweet--so it isn't the most traditional of lassis, but it is delicious.


Vegan/Dairy-Free Mango Lassi
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2-3)

2 cups frozen mango chunks
1 cup coconut milk
2/3 cup non-dairy yogurt, plain or vanilla
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1/2 tsp rosewater (optional)
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
sweetener of choice to taste if needed/desired--I didn't use any in mine
ice cubes/ice water, if needed/desired

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, you can add a little ice water or ice cubes as needed and continue to blend until smooth and pourable. Serve immediately. Any leftovers can be stored, cover in the fridge for a day or so.

 
Notes/Results: There is just something about a mango lassi--it's refreshing, satisfying, slightly exotic with the rosewater and cardamom and so good. With the coconut milk and coconut-based yogurt I used, this one was ultra rich and creamy and I found for me, it did not require any additional sweetener, but adapt it to your own tastes with whatever dairy or non-dairy milks and yogurts you prefer and sweeteners--honey, agave, coconut sugar, or a date or two would all work. I drank one of my lassis when I made it and saved the remaining to drink the next day, as well as stirred some of it into a vanilla chai pudding. I enjoyed it all and will happily make it again.


I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

 
Note: A review copy of "A Place For Us" was provided to me by the author and the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.
 

 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Cold and Creamy Tomato-Cucumber Soup (or "Pink Cucumber Float"): Cooking Retro with Betty Crocker for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

I had some of my retro and vintage cookbooks out lately. They are fun to look through for entertainment, cooking ideas and inspiration, and the occasional and often quirky recipe that catches my eye and begs to be made. 


One of my favorites is my 1967 Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook. I adore the cover--it makes me think of an upscale Brady Bunch house and the menus for Gay Supper Parties and Bright Little Brunches and Lunches, and Happy Holiday Specials. I tagged a couple of interesting soups to add to my "to-make" stack, including the somewhat unfortunately named Pink Cucumber Float --a cold creamy tomato soup with diced cucumber and a touch of curry powder and Worcestershire sauce. Although there is a breeze and less humidity this weekend than we have had the past few weeks, cold soup is still welcome.


The recipe is in the Harvest Feast dinner and Betty recommends "Begin dinner in the living room with mugs of the cold, conversation-making soup to be sipped around the coffee table."


I needed to make some healthy changes to the recipe--replacing the buttermilk with a vegan substitute of coconut milk and vinegar for the buttermilk tang. I also didn't want to buy tomato soup concentrate because of all of the sodium and other ingredients I don't want to eat (Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Wheat Flour, Water, Contains Less Than 2% Of: Salt, Potassium Chloride, Flavoring, Citric Acid, Lower Sodium Natural Sea Salt, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Monopotassium Phosphate--480 mg of sodium) so I replaced it with a large box of tomato puree, mixed with a little roasted garlic powder. I did leave in the Worcestershire sauce as there isn't too much (if you want a vegan version they make them or you could sub in Bragg's liquid aminos or coconut aminos too). Finally, I did increase the curry powder to 1 teaspoon, just because. My changes are in red below.


Pink Cucumber Float
Adapted from Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook
(Serves 6)

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp curry powder (I used 1 tsp)
1 can (10 1/2 oz) condensed tomato soup (I used boxed pureed tomatoes + 1 tsp roasted garlic powder & sea salt to taste)
2 cups buttermilk (I used 2 cups coconut milk + 2 tsp white wine vinegar)
1 medium cucumber, finely chopped
cracked black pepper
6 cucumber slices

Blend Worcestershire sauce and curry powder; stir into tomato soup. Slowly add buttermilk, stirring until blended. Add chopped cucumber. Chill thoroughly. Sprinkle pepper over each serving; garnish with a cucumber slice. 


Notes/Results: A creamy and tasty cold soup. The curry is present but even with the increased amount it isn't a strong flavor--it's just savory and good. The Worcestershire adds umami, along with the tang of the buttermilk substitute and the coconut milk makes it ultra creamy with the diced cucumber adding texture. I can see how the new 1967 hostess could feel a little fancy and exotic serving it. ;-) I'd change the title up and call it a tomato-cucumber bisque. A fun kitchen experiment that I'd happily make again.   


 Let's look into the Souper Sundays kitchen and see who is around.


Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog shared Creamy Avocado Salad Dressing --Oil Free and said, "Avocados contain a significant amount of fat- healthy good fat- but still fat. When I decided to make this tasty creamy avocado salad dressing, I decided not add any additional oil. ... This delicious creamy avocado vegan salad dressing adds lots flavor and depth to whatever salad you are eating. I love it over any kind of greens."


Welcome Nancy of Colors 4 Health, joining Souper Sundays for the first time this week with her Vegan Coleslaw. Nancy said, "Vegan coleslaw is a versatile dish, one that goes great at a summer picnic, potluck, or barbecue. Just as good, serve it anytime during the year. Savor its flavor at lunch or dinner with a bean and rice dish, sandwich, or alongside a hummus wrap for an economical, energizing meal."


Debra of Eliot's Eats brought Toasted Quinoa Garden Salad and said, "The tomatoes are doing so well, that I decided to whip up another salad for this month’s IMK. This time I have more of a recipe though. ... The tomatoes, cucumber and basil came from the garden. (Sorry no photo of the cucumber. It had gotten lost at the bottom of the vine and when I found it it was almost yellow. I was afraid it would be bitter, but it wasn’t and was a good addition to the salad.)"


Mahalo to everyone who joined in with Souper Sundays this week!

About Souper Sundays:

Souper Sundays is back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.) 

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
 

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's Souper Sunday's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you. Also please see below for what to do on your blog post that you link up her in order to be included in the weekly round-up.
and 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back to it on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (optional).




Have a happy, healthy week!
 

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Dead Girls" by Alice Bolin, Served with a Recipe for Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon

Why do the shorter weeks with holidays in the middle usually seem like much longer weeks? It's a mystery--as is why I am pairing Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon with my review of Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin. I'll attempt to explain how eggs fit with these essays that explore American pop culture by looking at our obsession with dead women on today's Aloha Friday TLC Book Tour stop. 


Publisher's Blurb:

In this poignant collection, Alice Bolin examines iconic American works from the essays of Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, illuminating the widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster men’s stories. Smart and accessible, thoughtful and heartfelt, Bolin investigates the implications of our cultural fixations, and her own role as a consumer and creator.
 
Bolin chronicles her life in Los Angeles, dissects the Noir, revisits her own coming of age, and analyzes stories of witches and werewolves, both appreciating and challenging the narratives we construct and absorb every day. Dead Girls begins by exploring the trope of dead women in fiction, and ends by interrogating the more complex dilemma of living women – both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate.
 
Reminiscent of the piercing insight of Rebecca Solnit and the critical skill of Hilton Als, Bolin constructs a sharp, perceptive, and revelatory dialogue on the portrayal of women in media and their roles in our culture.

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 26, 2018)

My Review:

Dead Girls centers around essays about pop culture and books and the trope of how we as a culture, have a fascination with the female victim--the dead woman (or dead girl as is the current habit in book titles) and how so much of what we watch, read, and listen to focuses on the violence against young, often vulnerable women. Woven into mentions of everything from Twin Peaks to Brittney Spears are stories about Alice Bolin's own adolescence and young adulthood, particularly after her move to Los Angeles and Hollywood, the mecca of the dead girl. Bolin explores her family relationships, boyfriends, her best female friend, and the rotation of somewhat random roommates she lived with eking out a food service living in expensive LA. For me some essays worked better than others--I found many of them a fascinating look at popular culture through feminist glasses and wanted them to continue while a few felt bogged down and wandered about, and I pushed through those. Although many of Bolin's references lean to what was popular in the 1990s-2000s when she was coming of age, she also pulls in more obscure and older references--books and movies from the 1960s and 1970s, Joan Didion and the Swedish Martin Beck book series, and she also riffs on more recent fare like Law and Order, the Serial podcast, the Lisbeth Salander books, Gone Girl and True Detective--so there's probably something in here that any pop culture fan can respond too. Bolin is smart, witty, and often darkly humorous and although Dead Girls is a bit of a mixed bag, it is an impressive non-fiction debut that I enjoyed and made me feel just a little bit smarter after reading. ;-) Take it to your favorite indie coffee shop and settle in with it and your brew of choice.

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Author Notes: Alice Bolin’s nonfiction has appeared in many publications including ELLE, the Awl, the LA Review of Books, Salon, VICE’s Broadly, The Paris Review Daily, and The New Yorker‘s Page-Turner blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Memphis.


Find out more about Alice at her website, and connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.


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Food Inspiration: 

There's not a lot of good food in Dead Girls, although there is an essay that focuses on food obsession. Food mentions did include things like a plate of chicken (sadly, used to describe how a male comedian looked at a female rapper), pizza delivery, a raspberry bramble, grilled cheese and tomato soup, junk food, Thai noodles, sarsaparilla, expensive sandwiches, In-and-Out, roasted marshmallows, hot sauce-flavored potato chips, white wine, spaghetti, canned ravioli, Starbucks, peanut butter, peaches, a side of broccoli at a steakhouse, jars of preserved fruits and vegetables, "six dried apricots cut in quarters and mixed with a half cup of plain yogurt," angel food bundt cake with strawberries and sauce, Ginger Snaps (the movie but it could also be the cookie), a tea party, breakfast, Bud Lite with lime, the best Oaxacan food, Intelligentsia coffee beans, Pad Thai, a burrito, Diet Coke, chocolate and cookies, flash frozen ice cream, kimchi and pickles, chicken strips, root beer and dumplings.


So why deviled eggs? I like to tell you it's a because of the eggs symbolism of life, birth and fertility, immortality--womanhood and all that that fits into the feminist vibe of the book. Truthfully, the list of food mentions are either things I don't eat, junk food, gluten and excess carbs that I am currently avoiding, or things I just don't like. I had a busy week and had one book review post already and I was planning on making these eggs for I Heart Cooking Clubs--so I combined them with my review in one post. But, let's pretend it was because of the whole egg-feminist symbolism thing, OK? ;-)


Regardless of the whys, these are pretty yummy deviled eggs from Eric Ripert, made with a bit of luxury with the crème fraiche (spoiler alert--I used some Tofutti vegan sour cream I had on hand) and smoked salmon.

Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon
Slightly Adapted by Eric Ripert via AvecEric.com
(Serves 4)

6 eggs
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp crème fraiche (I subbed in vegan sour cream)
2 oz smoked salmon, diced
1 Tbsp sliced chives
cayenne pepper (I used Aleppo pepper)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon, cut in half
smoked paprika to garnish (I added a few capers to garnish & and a bit of extra smoked salmon & chive)

Place the eggs in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, cover and remove from the heat. Let the eggs sit, covered for 12-15 minutes; drain the hot water and run cold water over the boiled eggs until cool.

Peel the eggs and cut each egg in half lengthwise. Gently remove the yolks from the center into a small mixing bowl. Set aside the egg white halves.

Add the mustard, crème fraiche, shallot, smoked salmon and chives to the egg yolks and stir to combine. Season to taste with cayenne, salt, pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Spoon the mixture back into the egg whites. Garnish with paprika.


Notes/Results: I am a deviled egg lover (Seriously, invite me to a party and if there are deviled eggs I will hover obnoxiously over the platter...) and a smoked salmon fan and I adore the two together. These have the perfect amount of flavor--nothing overpowers and they have a good, silky texture. Rather than stand over a tray of these eggs at a party, I would carry it to the couch and snarl at anyone who tried to take one. (There go my invites!) I would happily make them again.


Linking up with I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is From the Starter Menu, Eric Ripert recipes for appetizers and small plates.


I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

 
Note: A review copy of "Dead Girls" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.
 

 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Garden of Blue Roses" by Michael Barsa, Served with Vanilla Chia Pudding with Blueberries & Peaches

It's the day before the July 4th and your thoughts are probably turning to cookouts and fireworks, and maybe an icy cold beverage if it's hot and humid where you are. There is something else that can feel cool and refreshing on a warm day and that's a chill from a creepy, Gothic tale like The Garden of Blue Roses by Michael Barsa. I'm reviewing it today as a stop on the TLC Book Tour and accompanying my review is a cool and creamy vanilla chia pudding, topped with blueberries and peaches and inspired by my reading.


Publisher's Blurb:

A car lies at the bottom of an icy ravine. Slumped over the steering wheel, dead, is the most critically acclaimed horror writer of his time. Was it an accident? His son Milo doesn’t care. For the first time in his life, he’s free. No more nightmarish readings, spooky animal rites, or moonlit visions of his father in the woods with a notebook and vampire make-up.

Or so he thinks.

Milo settles into a quiet routine–constructing model Greek warships and at last building a relationship with his sister Klara, who’s home after a failed marriage and brief career as an English teacher. Then Klara hires a gardener to breathe new life into their overgrown estate. There’s something odd about him–something eerily reminiscent of their father’s most violent villain. Or is Milo imagining things? He’s not sure. That all changes the day the gardener discovers something startling in the woods. Suddenly Milo is fighting for his life, forced to confront the power of fictional identity as he uncovers the shocking truth about his own dysfunctional family–and the supposed accident that claimed his parents’ lives.

Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: Underland Press (April 17, 2018)

My Review:

I'll say it flat out ...this is a strange book and a book that took me a bit to get into and make complete sense of. It's also a book that not everyone is going to like--because of that strangeness, its unreliable and fairly unlikable main character, and the fact that really, there are no truly likable characters here, just some less unlikable than others. All that being said, I liked it, I really did, and I found myself in turn fascinated with, repelled by, and oddly protective of Milo and Klara Crane--the two main characters. (For movie fans, I picture Milo in my mind as a cross between a young Anthony Perkins in Psycho and Bud Court in Harold  and Maude and young Milo as the kid who played Damien in The Omen and Klara as Jennifer Jason Leigh in Delores Claiborne.) The Garden of Blue Roses definitely has a strong Shirley Jackson Gothic, creepy sibling vibe that is reminiscent and yet very different from We Have Always Lived at the Castle--which happens to be a favorite of mine. 

I don't want to give away any more details than are already in the blurb, but lets just say that this is family dysfunction at its creepiest. The horror here is not in-your-face, it's psychological, so more dark and chilling than truly scary--a tone that starts from the first page with the shrill blast of an old clanging phone ringing in a large, spooky house and an accident on an icy road, then builds the tension, page by page until the very end with the plot, and the Crane family's secrets are cleverly unfolded with dark humor and some great twists. There were a few times when things went over my head and I had to go back and read passages again to figure out what was happening, but it was worth it. This is Barsa's first book and if you like smart Gothic and literary fiction that leans into horror, suspense, strange but well-drawn characters, and dark family secrets, you might just enjoy it As for me, I'm going to add it with its gorgeous dark blue cover to my shelves and wait for Barsa to write some more.

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Author Notes: Michael Barsa grew up in a German-speaking household in New Jersey and spoke no English until he went to school. So began an epic struggle to master the American “R” and a lifelong fascination with language. He’s lived on three continents and spent many summers in southern Germany and southern Vermont.
 
He’s worked as an award-winning grant writer, an English teacher, and an environmental lawyer. He now teaches environmental and natural resources law. His scholarly articles have appeared in several major law reviews, and his writing on environmental policy has appeared in The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times. His short fiction has appeared in Sequoia.
The Garden of Blue Roses is his first novel.

Connect with Michael via his Website or Facebook.

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Food Inspiration:

There is not a lot of tempting food mentioned in The Garden of Blue Roses and what's mentioned sometimes has a creepy connotation, like Milo chopping carrots and they remind him of Klara's fingers or a few other more graphic relations of food to the body or blood. OK, that's appetizing--we'll move on... ;-) There was some 'normal' food present and it included coffee, hot scones and cheese, hamburgers, canned cream of mushroom soup, tea and butter cookies, soda, champagne, pork roast, potatoes and Brussels sprouts, popping corn, shrimp, icy summer drinks, wieners and sauerkraut, wine, maple syrup, freeze-dried ice cream, canned peaches, lamb chops, lettuce, cocoa, soft-boiled eggs, chocolate with marzipan centers, croissants, orange juice, pears, biscuits, gravy, wine and fine cheeses,  flavored tea bottles, and steaks.


For my book inspired dish, I decided to make a pudding. There's a reference in the book where something (you really don't want me to go into it) is compared to a child with pudding on his face. I wanted to add blueberries for the gorgeous blue color of the cover and canned peaches (or rather a cup of peaches in their juices) because Milo had a favorite brand. I decided on chia pudding because it's healthier than standard puddings--you get protein, fiber, calcium, omega 3's and other good nutrients--and chia seeds are low in carbs. Vanilla and a little maple syrup to sweeten and flavor and coconut milk to keep it dairy-free. Plus my friend Natalie just post a pic of a chia seed pudding on Instagram and I've been craving it.


Vanilla Chia Pudding 
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 4)

2 cups coconut milk, or milk of choice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup, or to taste
1/2 cup chia seeds
fresh blueberries and whatever other fruit or nuts you like to top

Place coconut milk. vanilla and maple syrup into a bowl and whisk until well blended. Whisk in the chia seeds until evenly blended. Pour into a jar or container and chill in the fridge overnight. If you have time, whisk the mixture--or shake it gently a few times to make sure it gels evenly.

When ready to enjoy, scoop into bowls and serve topped with fresh fruit and whatever else you like.
 

Notes/Results: As much as I dislike tapioca and those mushy spheres, I adore chia seed pudding. There's something about how creamy it becomes, but then the crunch of the seeds (which I like--think of poppy seed dressing or muffins) make it a little different and interesting--much like this book. This vanilla chia seed pudding was an excellent blend of vanilla flavor, sweet, but not too sweet and perfect with the blueberries and peaches. I ate it for lunch and will be having some for dessert and for breakfast--I think it counts as an all-day food. I'll happily make it again.


And once again, how gorgeous is this cover?!?


I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

 
Note: A review copy of "The Garden of Blue Roses" was provided to me by the author and the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.